Leadership Aids Retention

Eighty per cent of business success is your ability to understand what it takes to be a leader, Earls Restaurants president Mo Jessa told a symposium, held at the University of Guelph in March as part of its Sustainable Restaurant Project.

Jessa started as a dishwasher at Earls 25 years ago, and rose through the ranks becoming executive chef in 2000, vice president of operations in 2004 and then president in 2013. Today Earls has 67 restaurants and more than 5,000 employees.

He presented a case study in employee engagement, pointing out that in 2008, only 500 people filled out the employee engagement survey, rating satisfaction at 76 per cent. In 2014, Earls received a similar satisfaction rating, but 4,000 people answered the survey. In one year, from 2013 to 2014, participation rose from 74 per cent of staff to 91 per cent — a huge jump in employee engagement in an area where one to two per cent is considered good progress.

Jessa credits his obsession with leadership as the key, and his conviction that every person at Earls can be a leader.

“You have to live certain aspects of leadership,” he said. Earls bases its leadership on four foundations:

  • Integrity. You can build trust if you do what you say, and people can count on you. It’s also important to empower people to make decisions.
  • Authenticity. Catch yourself when you are faking it. Being yourself is OK; if you’re genuine, you’re allowed to have some personal flaws.
  • Believe in a cause bigger than yourself. If you can identify what that is, it allows people to feel part of something.
  • Take 100 per cent responsibility for all outcomes.

All 300 managers and general managers at Earls have taken a three-day course on leadership.

But leadership is not limited to management. Jessa found an example of leadership development for hourly employees at Lululemon developed by leadership advisor Susanne Conrad, stressing the need for dialogue, listening and self-reflection skills, and the idea that when you create a future, you do it for yourself.

This year, Jessa is implementing Earls’ Developing Leaders: Vision and Goals program, and is committed to training 1,500 employees in 2015. It asks employees to consider a 10-year vision, to decide what’s important in their lives.

“I personally blog about these principles every Sunday for three hours. It goes out on Monday, and people read it. You’ve got to live [leadership] or people won’t do it.”

New model for recruitment

Sean Lyons, professor of leadership and management at University of Guelph’s College of Business and Economics, told the audience there’s a new recruitment model.

“In the old model, you assumed employees want to work for you; that jobs are static and don’t change with the employee; that the best people are local; and that recruiting is advertising focused.

“In the new model, focused on generation X and millennials, [the candidate asks], ‘What do you have to offer me?’” The job marketing strategy must be compelling, the offer designed to be competitive, and it’s important to “fish in the right pond” to get qualified candidates.

“Use employer branding because brands have power,” Lyons added. Be known for your corporate social responsibility, or be named one of the Top 50 Employers by Aon Hewitt. “You are your unique value proposition,” Lyons said.

Four critical aspects of “fit”

Jan G. van der Hoop, president and organization performance expert with Fit First Technologies, has devoted his career to helping people and organizations find better ways to work together. He told the symposium being fit for the role is the leading indicator of business performance, and set out four critical aspects:

  • Screen for fit — find out who employees are as individuals, what their standards are and their best and worst managers.
  • Measure what matters — how they learn and think. Ask, “What’s the funniest thing that ever happened at work?”
  • Check your standards — you attract what you tolerate. If you tolerate mediocrity, you will get mediocre staff.
  • Take a ruthless look in the mirror — would you work for you?

By Colleen Isherwood. This article is reprinted with the permission from Pacific Restaurant News.